When I reflected on today's readings, which at first glance could make us think they're about us and them, rich and poor. They are not. Rather they are about transformation. We all have of one foot in the camp of the proud and the other in the camp of the humble. Think of the first reading as a metaphor for God's honing us so that the humble part of us grows and the proud part diminishes. It is our response to misfortune as well as our response to good fortune that determines our character. The humility of which Zephaniah speaks, it not self-debasement or docility. Rather it is simply acknowledging the truth about ourselves and our dependence on God and our interconnectedness to all of creation. The righteousness of which Zephaniah speaks is not scrupulosity or piety. The Greek and Hebrew words, usually translated as “righteousness” would be more aptly translated as: equity, fairness, justice or, justness. “Seek humility, seek righteousness” means seek truth and justice. Will we act on it?
In the second reading, Paul tells us “God chose what is low and despised in this world.” Right now, the low and despised are refugees, especially Syrian refugees. Corporate interests have designated animal habitat, Indigenous lives and livelihoods—and—even the well-being of the Earth itself, as expendable. God has implanted in us a thirst for justice. Will we act on it?
Today’s Gospel turns the old world meaning of blessed on its head. In ancient Greek usage, makarios, which means blessed, referred to the gods who were beyond all cares, labours, and even death. The blessed ones were gods who lived in some other world away from the cares and problems and worries of ordinary people. In time, makarios came to refer to the elite, the upper echelons of society, the wealthy people. It referred to people whose riches and power put them above the normal cares and problems and worries of the common people, who constantly struggle and worry and labor in life. To be blessed, you had to be very rich and powerful. The blessed were those people and beings who lived above the normal cares, problems, and worries of normal people.
Matthew however, reflecting Jesus' thoughts, uses the word makarios/blessed in a totally different way. It is not the elite who are blessed. It is not the rich and powerful who are blessed. It is not the high and mighty who are blessed. It is not the people living in huge mansions or expensive penthouses who are blessed. Rather, Jesus like his mother, pronounces God's blessings on the lowly: the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the meek, the mourning. Throughout the history of this word, it had always been the other people who were considered blessed: the rich, the filled up, the powerful. Jesus turns it all upside-down. The elite in God's kingdom, the blessed ones in God's kingdom, are those who seek truth and justice and through their seeking—and acting—are transformed—no matter how little or how much they have. So, it isn't about the poor versus the rich. Rather, today's gospel is about truth, justice and transformation.
Lastly, the beatitudes are not about the rewards for different groups of good people. They are the characteristics that each of us should strive to embody. One could say they are the steps, in no particular order, that can transform us. So in the gospel sense, blessed is about the ability to hear, heed and live the gospel message. How will we act on it?